Not Idol, or Idle, But Ideal
Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister at Covenant Community Church on Feb 1, 2001, 12:54
There is an old story about a man who dreamed an angel escorted him to church on a Sunday morning. There he saw the keyboardist playing vigorously, the praise team singing, the musicians playing with gusto. But the man heard no sound.
The congregation was singing, but the sound was muted. When the minister rose to speak, his lips moved, but there was no volume. In amazement the man turned to the angel for an explanation.
“This is the way that it sounds in heaven,” said the angel, “You hear nothing because there is nothing to hear. These people are engaged in the FORM of worship, but their thoughts are on other things and their hearts are far away!”
I believe worship is the most momentous, most urgent, and the most glorious action that can take place in the life of a Christian. With that in mind let me share a foundational principle for this study. It is as follows:
Principle: God doesn’t bless idol worship, idle worship, but ideal worship!
What constitutes good worship? If you haven’t taken time to think about it, you should. That is the question of the day among churches. Too often we hear the body of Christ dividing over worship styles. People decide where they attend because of musical instruments used or not used. Others might decide based on whether or not they use hymns and/or praise songs. In today’s world we have the impression that the acceptability of worship is somehow determined by the way we feel. If there isn’t something that “moves us” then we can’t worship. You have heard it before:
Those old hymns are so boring. Those new songs are so loud. The words in the old hymns are so strange. They sing that new stuff too much.
On and on it goes. People polarize along the lines of their favorite worship style. The mistake made is that it has more to do with the worshipper than God at that point. The end result is that too many churches start at 11:00 sharp and end at 12:00 dull!
The question that needs to be asked is what type of worship pleases God? Amos 5:18-26 gives us some insight into the kind of worship that pleases God. In the passage we can discover some lessons to help us as we worship. The passage finds God upset at the way the people have worshipped, and there are some strong statements made to correct them. Anytime we begin to think about the way we worship we must ask ourselves . . .Do we have a heart that beats for God? Each and every one of us is in process. We are on a journey. I know people who do all the right things, but they have no heart for God and could not care less about what He wants. I also know people who are the biggest goof ups in the world, their struggles and failures are real and painful, but they have an intense desire to be all that God wants, and God is growing them. The conclusion is simple. It is a matter of heart. In this passage Israel had their hearts in the wrong place! That was the problem! Now let’s find out what we can learn from their mistakes.
First see that Acceptable worship focuses on God, not the worshipper (v.21-22). I hate, I despise your religious feasts: I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.”
They sought to please themselves instead of God in their worship. The people in the day of Amos loved religious festival and traditions, the offering of sacrifices and the singing of songs. Eventually they grew so enamored with the trappings of worship that they forgot its purpose is to honor God. Today people look for a church with worship that meets their needs. Some churches use worship as a means for reaching the lost. I am intrigued by the number of people that want to lecture me about being seeker sensitive, but think about it for a moment. Real worship is not designed for those who have no relationship with the Savior, because they have no reason to worship. Now before I get responses from people who disagree with that I will say, that I think we must use every means necessary to share the gospel. We must do so in ways that connect and relate to the hearer, whatever those methods may be. Yet, in the context of worship, this concept of being seeker sensitive can get you in trouble if you are not careful. As the pastor of a very innovative church I am often asked, “are you seeker sensitive in your worship?” The answer is “no.” We are innovative and creative in the way we communicate truth, we use every means available to communicate clearly, but we also strive to capture and maintain integrity in worship. The focus is on God, not the one who worships. He is the audience we are the participants. If we don’t do that right, we are not really worshipping.
Worship is designed for the people of God to worship the creator. Worship is something that takes place among his people. If you don’t have a relationship to God, you are singing and listening. If you don’t know Him, whom are you worshipping and more importantly WHY are you doing it?
I think that through times of worship we can catch a glimpse of God. We can draw closer to God, but that is because he has promised to inhabit the praise of His people. The quality of worship is not determined by the way it moves the worshipper or whether it draws the unchurched. Do we worship primarily for God or us?
That is the concern for Amos. He deals with the topic of whether worship is acceptable to God, not whether it pleases, helps, fulfills, or lifts the worshiper. Comments such as HATE, DESPISE, CANNOT STAND, WILL NOT ACCEPT, WILL HAVE NO REGARD FOR, WILL NOT LISTEN convey the prophet and God’s view of Israel’s worship.
This has an immediate impact on us. What if God hates the worship we love? Is that possible? Why should we be different from them in this respect? If we are designing worship to feel good to us, why can’t we be as wrong as they were?
Let’s also notice that Acceptable worship can only be offered by obedient people. God was NOT DISPLEASED with the style of their worship. Rather, God was not happy because obedient and righteous people did not offer it to him. (v.23, 24) “Away with the noise of your songs. I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing steam.
Here is the heart of the answer we are trying to find, and something to remember. People who are obedient and desiring to be what He has called them to be do not focus on worship styles or their own human needs. They come before God as humble obedient servants who desire to worship because there is nothing else to do. They recognize who He is, and who they are. They want to offer prayers, songs, study, and their lives
Orel Herschiser pitched an amazing season for the LA Dodgers in 1988. Following a complete game shutout in August, he threw five more complete games through the end of the regular season, and did not allow his opponents to score an earned run in 59 consecutive innings.
When the Dodgers faced the New York Mets in the NL playoffs, he continued to dominate hitters. He pitched more than 24 innings in that series and threw another shutout in the championship game.
In the World Series his complete game victory over the Oakland A’s in game five clinched the series for LA. He was the winner of the Cy Young Award that year as well as honors for the two championship series.
During the playoffs the TV cameras zoomed in on this pitcher sitting in the dugout between innings. They noticed that he was singing to himself. Unable to hear what he was singing, the commentators observed that with the year he had had, he had much to sing about!
On the Tonight Show he was asked what song he had been singing and if he would sing it again there. He was reluctant, yet the audience cheered and roared its approval. So that night on national TV he sang the tune that TV crews had barely caught on tape:
“Praise God from whom all blessing flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise father, son, and Holy Ghost. Amen”
Instead of concerning ourselves with styles of worship, we should focus our attention on God, on pleasing him both with our acts of worship and our daily acts of obedience. The fact that people divide over worship style suggests we may have our own shortcomings in justice and righteousness. In fact, this may make our worship unacceptable to God regardless of style! If that is how we feel, we need to come before God trembling and get back to the heart of the matter. The call is a call to return to the heart of worship. Worship that is focused on Him, that—regardless of the style— is acceptable to God.
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